Wednesday, 19 November 2014
If You Want the RPG Hobby to Become More LGBT-Inclusive, You Need to Accept That Most LGBTs Are and Will Be Playing D&D
So we hear a lot these days, some from people who are really just desperately interested in having everyone see how activist they are, and some from those who actually give a fuck, about the question of LGBT-inclusivity in RPGs. Many people have been arguing in favor of LGBT-representation in game settings, and that's fine (within the boundaries of what's credible for a setting, obviously). But some have also pointed out that just having a few mentions of LGBT characters in a game setting is not really any great thing, and is not necessarily something that will make the hobby more welcoming to LGBT people as gamers.
Correct! The question is, what's the solution then? Some have talked about RPG mechanics, and how these should be changed somehow, or new RPGs/storygames made that address these. In one particularly productive G+ conversation I was involved in, one writer suggested the following as mechanical elements that they thought would appeal to LGBT players:
"character non-monogamy, subversive models of character agency, mechanics that interrogate themselves, fluid codification of characters, games without characters."
Now, here's the thing: none of those things appear in D&D, nor will they ever. And not because D&D is homophobic, but because they're just irrelevant to it. Those types of mechanics are as relevant to D&D in both system and style as they would be to baseball.
Other people in that same conversation (or maybe the same person, I forget) were also talking about the importance of panels at cons.
Now, here's the thing: the types of mechanics described above are all well and good to appear in new games (most likely small-press indie games). Fine. Panels at cons, fine. But both of these amount to preaching to the choir, to people already operating inside the hobby. And note that by "choir" in this case, I do NOT mean LGBT-people, but rather that very tiny subset of the same that are really really interested in LGBT issues in Gaming, and actively participate in things like panels at cons, and play quirky story games.
Most RPG players don't even GO to cons. Most RPG players don't play storygames. And among that classification of "RPG Players", I include most LGBT players.
I will say it right here: I would be willing to bet my finest pipe that, in exactly the same way that the vast majority of RPG players only play D&D, the vast majority of LGBT people who play RPGs only play D&D. And there's no reason to suspect that the vast majority of LGBT people who become tabletop RPG players in the future won't also follow that same trend.
Does this mean that there are no problems with inclusion? No, of course there are problems. What this means is, as long as the ownership of the discussion of what to do to bring more LGBT-people into the hobby and make the hobby a more welcoming and inclusive place belongs to people who like to talk about college-level identity politics theory in panels at cons and play storygames, as long as that particular (dare I say privileged?) group claims ownership over this issue, a huge disservice is likely being done to the majority of LGBT-gamers.
Why? Because as far as I can see, D&D (and its clones) will continue by far to be the largest RPG in the hobby, and the one that will keep successfully bringing in the most new people to the hobby.
So I think if the goal is to create inclusion, you're left with two choices:
a) Go to war with the entire hobby and try to destroy D&D, which is a fools' errand, though certainly some fools are trying.
b) talk more productively about those ways that can provide inclusivity within the structure and model that is unlikely to change, nor should it need to change.
"Queering" D&D is like "queering" basketball, or bridge. It either can't be done, or can only be done by making something so radically different from what is presently called 'basketball' or 'bridge' that it would no longer be recognizable as such.
So I would argue that D&D is the elephant in the room of the whole discussion as it currently stands. Are you doing all this to make yourself feel better and to be smug, and create a little pseudo-intellectual ghetto for yourselves while abandoning to the wolves any LGBT gamers who have no interest in spending their time talking about Queer Theory; or are you doing it because you actually want the very core hobby to be more inclusive and to be a place that is more open, welcoming and gives more centrality to LGBT people? If the latter, you need to recognize the reality that D&D is the hobby (in terms of what your goals would be), and that therefore its pointless to talk about 'steps' that don't take D&D into account. There's not much reason to talk about changing things at the rules level (because you couldn't do that with D&D, aside from fluff rules). Instead, what you do need to talk about are the many many other levels in which you can focus yours efforts with D&D to achieve your goals.
No one's saying it's a bad idea to make a game that specifically appeals to the interests or identity of a minority (though I think that can often create either tokenism, or ghettoization, both of which have problems of their own); but the point is that D&D IS the RPG hobby for most gamers! You won't create an overall environment that's positive if you don't address how you can work with D&D. And furthermore, I think that D&D is the RPG hobby for most LGBT gamers! Sure, there are some that will really be hyper-aware of the 'bigger hobby', but it's likely that, just like 90% of all gamers don't play anything other than D&D, 90% of all LGBT gamers don't play anything other than D&D too. So you're doing those people a disservice by ignoring D&D.
I think that 5e D&D has done (and is on course to doing) great stuff with representation. I think that the places where D&D can work better for LGBT involve just about everything that surrounds the system (plus maybe a few secondary elements of system itself), and how they present settings/adventures; but I think its much more important to stop thinking about this in terms of the elements of the game, and start thinking more in terms of the elements of marketing, public relations, organized play, etc. Conventions are important, sure, but they aren't the "ground floor" of the hobby. Instead, you want to be promoting LGBT involvement in play through FLGSes, school clubs, community groups, etc, plus online play (if WotC can ever figure out how to do that last one right).
The interesting thing is that this are ALSO precisely the areas that WoTC needs to be focusing on if they want to make the hobby grow in general; and they could do this at the same time as they make an effort to making D&D (and thus the biggest part of the hobby) more LGBT-friendly.
Hell, for years now gaming companies have from time to time engaged in or participated in programs to send RPG books to overseas military (which has, by the way, resulted in a disproportionate amount of U.S. RPG players being active or veteran military). Why not do the same to gay-straight alliance clubs in schools, or other kinds of youth groups?
That's the kind of thinking you need to be working on if the goal is really to reach out and welcome LGBT gamers; working from the assumption (no doubt distasteful to some, but a reality) that the vast majority of LGBT gamers are and will be just like all the other gamers and want to play D&D, so the answer to inclusiveness is getting more LGBT people (especially LGBT youth) trying out D&D.
As for the Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs outreach thing, remember, folks: you heard it from the RPGPundit first.
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